Sunday, December 12, 2010

Curling scarf rescue mission--part one: the problem and the solutions which DON'T work

"Why does my scarf curl?" and  "How can I stop my scarf from rolling?" must be among the most common questions asked and re-asked on internet knitting forums everywhere.

The root of the question is almost always a plain stockinette scarf -- a rectangle of fabric made back and forth, knitting on one row, purling the next -- although sometimes the question arises from a lace scarf with a stockinette background.  The problem is not the yarn, nor the technique--the problem is inherent in stockinette stitch itself.  In other words, stockinette fabric rolls because that is its nature. 

Knowing this after the fact, however, doesn't solve the problem when you've got a tightly curled piece of knitting in your hand--a piece which seems a useless disappointment.

It makes me sad to think of all the excitement of a first project turning to disappointment like this, so I've been knitting around and around until three different solutions have been worked out.  Specifically, I've knit some stockinette scarves which curl like mad--three of them.

Over the next three posts,we're going to flatten each one of these and turn each into a lovely, wearable scarf.  No longer do curled scarves have to be unraveled or put in a drawer: from now on, they can be reworked or corrected.

However, before we get to the rest of this series and show solutions which work, let's take a quick detour into solutions which don't work, or at least, which don't usually work very well.

Blocking, and why it doesn't work very well

Blocking is often recommended for curling the stockinette curl, either steam blocking or regular wet-blocking.  This may possibly work on a slick fiber like cotton or bamboo which has been LOOSELY KNIT, and is worth a try in that situation.   Yet on animal fibers, or wool or woolly acrylic, this solution is of limited usefulness. The fact is, it is practically impossible to block the curl out of stockinette without taking a real chance that you'll have to resort to actually ironing it.  Once on this road, you might find you have to iron the life right out the knitting before it will consent to lay flat.  In other words, if you chose to cure stockinette's curl with blocking, then when you finally do succeed in getting the curl out, the knitting has a real chance of having become a limp rag.  More commonly, a severe blocking tames the problem temporarily, but the curl returns as the scarf is worn.

Edging, and why it doesn't work very well

Another popular suggested cure is putting a non-curling edging onto the scarf.  Seed stitch, moss stitch or garter stitch are often recommended.  It is true that these fabrics do not curl (and are therefore an excellent choice for the next scarf!)  However, the usual result from applying a non-curling edging to a curled scarf is that, although the edging itself does not curl, the scarf to which it is attached will continue to curl, taking the edging right along with it.  There are ways to attach an edging so that the edging will not curl, but this kind of edging, called zig-zag edging, has to be knitted in, it cannot be applied after the fact.

'til next time, when we'll continue the series by flattening the sparkly blue scarf....


PS:  This is part 1 of a 4 part series.  The other parts are here:
part 2--drop columns
part 3--forming ribbing
part 4--lining the scarf


Blogger quinn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

December 12, 2010 at 8:58 PM  
Blogger quinn said...

(sorry for deleting this the first time...thought I might be able to edit.)

I can't wait to see the solutions! One of my first projects was a pretty cotton scarf, and after a couple of attempts to flatten it, it was sadly retired to a drawer, and I went on to knit other things. Possibly there is still hope for this scarf to be wearable instead of just store-able?

December 12, 2010 at 9:00 PM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Certainly, Quinn, you'll be able to wear it! After all the posts in this series go live, you'll be able to review 3 different methods before you make up your mind as to which to use!

December 12, 2010 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger WillyG said...

Ooh, great topic!

December 12, 2010 at 9:37 PM  
Blogger Stripeyspots said...

I agree - great topic!

December 13, 2010 at 4:40 AM  
Blogger adriene said...

I can't wait to see the options. I've got a pretty scarf that I wear all the time, but I wish it didn't curl. The pattern called for slipping the first stitch on each row, but I think that just made it worse. I'd love to figure out a way to fix it!

December 13, 2010 at 9:10 AM  
Blogger Sea said...

I would have thought the easiest way to make sure you didn't get a curly stockinette scarf would be to knit it in the round, then if the mood takes you, you could always wear it as a long wee willie winkie type hat with the end pushed in.

December 13, 2010 at 11:28 AM  
Anonymous twinsetellen said...

I can't wait. I've had some luck with various approaches, but nothing that would stand up to the iconic rolled stockinette scarf. Don't tantalize us too long, please!

December 13, 2010 at 11:56 AM  
Blogger Kalika said...

Very neat! Can't wait to see what you come up with.

Aside from knitting in the round and/or seaming the scarf together - I've never really found a way to get rid of the curl.

December 13, 2010 at 4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is going to be useful and fun. Thanx in advance, Darrell

December 13, 2010 at 5:48 PM  
Blogger Sorka said...

Ack!! What a timely post! I need some help in this area exactly this week!

December 15, 2010 at 10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, please hurry with your solution - I am holding off on a lavender dcarf!!!!!

December 15, 2010 at 8:30 PM  
Blogger Evelyn said...

Great topic! With actual evidence! I get tired of reading, Oh, just add a row of single crochet.

December 16, 2010 at 12:29 AM  
Anonymous Jill said...

Baited Breath...

December 16, 2010 at 5:43 PM  
Anonymous sasphyria said...

Cant wait! :)

I have one of these curling scarfs!
I just knit it together with a berret and some gloves.
:( but i tried helped only little time. Now its curled again.

So! i need help! :) please!
Bevore winter is gone *G*

December 17, 2010 at 2:55 AM  
Blogger mar3509 said...

still waiting for solution - posted soon I hope!!!!

December 17, 2010 at 4:21 PM  
Blogger TECHknitter said...

Folks--sorry for the delay--the project for the next post has been completed for several days now, but the winter weather in Wisconsin is not cooperating in getting good photos. Hopefully soon??

Thanks for your patience, TK

December 17, 2010 at 7:39 PM  
Blogger Abby said...

I hate curling stockinette! Can't wait for the solution, as I have an almost-finished garment that suffers from curl. I tried several borders, including applied i-cord, without success. BTW, your article on grafting enabled me to finish my Bog Jacket. Thanks!

December 19, 2010 at 7:55 PM  

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